BelgiumThe New Belgian Maritime Spatial Plan (2014)

On 20 March 2014 Belgium approved a new maritime spatial plan for the Belgian Part of the North Sea by Royal Decree. In 2010, a policy note from the Belgian State Secretary for North Sea Policy had stated that “…initiatives should be taken to keep [the MSP] process high on the [policy] agenda.” Over the past several years the Marine Environment Service of the Directorate-General for the Environment led the effort to develop the new plan under new authorities of the Marine Environment Act (“An Act on the Protection of the Marine Environment and on the Organization of Marine Spatial Planning in the Sea Areas under Belgian Jurisdiction”).

The new plan lays out principles, goals, objectives, and long-term vision, and spatial policy choices for the management of the Belgian territorial sea and EEZ. Management actions, indicators and targets addressing marine protected areas and the management of human uses including commercial fishing, offshore aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, shipping, dredging, sand and gravel extraction, pipelines and cables, military activities, tourism and recreation, and scientific research are included. A draft plan and future spatial visions were approved by the Council of Ministers in 2013, after a process of consultations and advice from a newly established advisory commission on MSP, in addition to expert consultation, stakeholder participation and preparation of a strategic environmental assessment of the plan. Cross-border consultation was carried out with the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. The plan will be reviewed every six years and is legally binding.

Over the past 10 years, marine spatial planning in Belgium has evolved from a “Master Plan” (really a zoning plan, based primarily on sectoral interests and with no legal authority) to an integrated, multiple-use plan with strong legal authority.

The Government’s Master Plan (2003)

Belgium was among the first countries to implement an operational, multiple-use marine spatial planning system that covers its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone. The Belgian part of the North Sea covers about 3,600 km2; its coastline is 66 km in length. Despite its small size, the Belgian marine and coastal area is used intensely.

Belgium used zoning in a ‘Master Plan’ to allocate marine space for specific maritime uses. A second planning phase determined sites for marine protected areas. The plan allowed permits and licenses for a given type of activity to be granted only within the identified zones and is subject to monitoring and evaluation.


The main drivers for spatial planning in Belgium came from the demand for offshore wind energy (construction of wind farms) and European Union requirements for the protection and conservation of ecologically and biologically valuable areas (Natura 2000 sites).

MSP in Belgium aims at achieving both economic and ecological objectives, including the development of offshore wind farms, the delimitation of marine protected areas, a policy plan for sustainable sand and gravel extraction, the mapping of marine habitats, protection of wrecks valuable for biodiversity, and the management of land-based activities affecting the marine environment. Together, these objectives provided the basis for the Master Plan.

The Master Plan has been implemented incrementally since 2003 and has led to a more diverse zoning system for sand and gravel extraction that includes new management zones with sequential rotation for the most intensive exploitation areas, seasonally closed zones in which extraction is prohibited during fish spawning seasons, and an exploration zone where potential future use is examined.

BelgiumThe GAUFRE Pilot Project, University of Ghent, 2003-05

The GAUFRE project (2003-2005) and the resulting report was the first attempt to deal with the high level of use in the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS). The project was made up of an interdisciplinary team at the University of Gent that worked together for two years. Although the information baseline was kept as scientific as possible, this team was further extended to incorporate professional experts from the spatial planning field. New scientific data were collected and existing data was updated. These data were then transferred to GIS maps, that were then used to prepare maps that enabled the data to be interpreted in different ways. The collation of the scientific data on GIS maps and the use of interpretative maps provided a solid starting point for MSP.

The leaders of the GAUFRE project emphasize that it was not the intent of the report to produce a spatial plan for the BPNS. They intended to develop a MSP process rather than a result. The report is structured in such a way that the reader can travel from a strict scientific discussion of data through to an analysis of those data in interaction with data from other scientific disciplines. This allows the reader to easily move between scientific information and the use of that information, to creatively consider ways in which MSP might be achieved in the BPNS. The intent was to encourage consideration of how a spatial plan might be prepared rather than to provide a strict guideline.

In the context of the research initiative an innovative and comprehensive method was outlined to develop alternative spatial sea use scenarios—defined as “a vision that projects the future use of ocean space based on a core set of goals and objectives and assumptions about the future”.

By developing spatial scenarios, future possibilities and conditions of the ocean area were visualized in a clear way, to make well-grounded choices and proactive decisions. The method defines six steps, essential for the development of alternative MSP scenarios, including (a) defining current trends, demands for space and conditions; (b) defining key values of the marine area; (c) defining strategic objectives and goals for the marine area; (d) identifying general spatial and temporal constraints (e.g., on the basis of existing regulation, physical characteristics or political opportunities); (e) developing alternative spatial use scenarios, each reflecting a priority set of goals, objectives and values; and (f) defining the significance and implications of each spatial scenario for the different functions and activities in the marine area.

A few years later, a scientific study on the biological valuation of the BPNS was completed. The study resulted in a set of maps showing the intrinsic biological value of different sub-areas within the BPNS. The maps were developed using available spatial data for macrobenthos and seabirds and to a lesser extent data on the spatial distribution of demersal fish and epibenthos. These marine biological valuation maps are considered as a unique but indispensable tool to obtain objective and scientifically sound spatial plans that could provide a basis for the implementation of sustainable management actions in the future (Derous et al., 2007).


Authority:The Belgian EEZ Act of 1999 and the Marine Protection Act of 1999; a Royal decree on MSP is being prepared
Lead Planning Agency:Original 2005 “Master Plan” (zoning) was developed by the Ministry of the North Sea; 2012 plan revisions led by Ministry of Environment
Financing:Not specified
Size of Planning Area:3,600 km2 (territorial sea and EEZ of Belgium)
Time required to complete the plans:Three years
Drivers of MSP:Finding space for wind farms, sand and gravel mining, and marine conservation areas in the Belgian EEZ that was already heavily over-used
Stakeholder participation:Consultations with commercial and recreational fishers, marine transport, sand and gravel mining, tourism, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations; the public was invited to comment on master plan
Sectors included in planning:Oil and gas, sand and gravel mining, wind energy, pipelines and cables, mariculture, and protected areas (navigation and fishing not included)
Relation to coastal management:Not specified
Relation to marine protected area management:Not specified
Plan approval:Implemented incrementally since 2003
Legal Status of Plan:Regulatory and enforceable
Plan revision:Every 6 years
Performance monitoring and evaluation:Suggested, but not specified


Belgian Ministry of Environment (Marine Department)
A Marine Spatial Plan for the Belgian Part of the North Sea (PDF)
A decade of Marine Spatial Planning in Belgium (MESMA presentation) (PDF)
GAUFRE Project Report (final) plus GAUFRE Project, A Flood of Space